Newspapering over nuclear weapons

Rules won’t make China obey them. Nukes just might.

The Economist declares China v India as the contest of the century. Good. It should help focus minds of international readers on an important issue, because in the coming years they are likely to have to choose sides.

But the 20th century taught the world that blatantly foreseeable conflicts of interest can become increasingly foreseeable wars with unforeseeably dreadful consequences. Relying on prosperity and more democracy in China to sort things out thus seems unwise. Two things need to be done.

First, the slow progress towards a border settlement needs to resume. The main onus here is on China. It has the territory it really wants and has maintained its claim to Arunachal Pradesh only as a bargaining chip. It has, after all, solved intractable boundary quarrels with Russia, Mongolia, Myanmar and Vietnam. Surely it cannot be so difficult to treat with India?

That points to a second, deeper need, one that it took Europe two world wars to come close to solving: emerging Asia’s lack of serious institutions to bolster such deals. [The Economist]

While framing the challenge fairly well, that famously opinionated newspaper ignores the beasts in the basements that are the ones most likely to prevent their masters from coming to blows. We are, of course, referring to nuclear weapons, which I have argued, are the New Himalayas that make direct military conflict between the two giants unlikely. Indeed, it is the shadow of the New Himalayas that contrains China from expanding its extravagant claims to the old Himalayas.

You can see how the absence of direct nuclear deterrence in the Western Pacific has emboldened China to claim almost the entire South China Sea as its own (see the myths that Yang shattered). All the activity in East Asia trying to work out a regional security architecture is premised on the unfounded hope that a powerful China will play by the rules it promises to. Liberal internationalists, of course, will prescribe such hope-based policies. It is unfortunate that a newspaper as bold as the Economist should accept this wishfulness to such an extreme that it entirely ignores nuclear deterrence. It might be that it has to do this, because evoking nuclear weapons would damage its dogmatic and silly insistence that India should give up its arsenal because it is ‘illegitimate’.

From the archive: He saw the light after leaving the Economist; a review of Bill Emmotts’ book.

Letter to the Jakarta Post

Regarding the situation in Jammu & Kashmir

An edited version of the following letter was published in Indonesia’s Jakarta Post today:


I refer to the article by Laura Schuurmans in the Jakarta Post dated 12 August 2010.

Ms Schuurman’s makes a specious argument linking the situation in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir to the spread of extremism across South Asia. The fact of the matter is that Jammu & Kashmir is a victim of Pakistan’s dangerous policy of using radical Islamist militants as a tool of state policy right from 1947. In other words Pakistan’s cynical manipulation of religion predates the Kashmir ‘dispute’. Secondly, as borne out by numerous statements by leaders of Pakistan-based militant organisations like Hafeez Saeed, leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the extremists’ goal is not limited to the liberation of Kashmir, but extends to the dismemberment of a India, multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation which is very similar to Indonesia.

In fact, while Ms Schuurman regurgitates the Goebbelsian language about troop numbers and ‘repression’ of the people in Jammu & Kashmir, she neglects to mention that despite bloodshed of the last two decades, including the ethnic cleansing of the Hindu minorities in 1989-90, the Indian government has respected the special status given to Jammu & Kashmir state. Your readers might be surprised to know that Indian citizens cannot migrate to the state, cannot purchase land and property there and face hurdles in marrying their Kashmiri counterparts. The state not only enjoys greater political and economic freedom than Pakistani administered Kashmir, and indeed Pakistan itself, but is also the second largest recipient of fiscal transfers (per capita) from the federal government.

This is not to deny that proxy war and insurgency has not created an affective divide between Kashmiris and the Indian state. But the idea of India is big enough to bridge this gap, as indeed has been happening since 2002. Chemotherapy is painful and hurts the body, but it is necessary to treat the underlying cancer which is fatal. Despite the Ms Schuurmans’ flawed arguments, I am sure that of all the people in the region, Indonesians will appreciate the challenges of governing a diverse, deeply religious yet plural society.

Pax Indica: East of Singapore

The waters east of Singapore hold the key to the lands west of the Indus

Yesterday’s post was about the developments in East Asia. In today’s Pax Indica column, I argue that India must be part of the security equilibrium in that region. Excerpts:

India’s strategic power projection will not be unwelcome in South East Asia. It will also enable the United States to remain engaged in Afghanistan-Pakistan by freeing up resources that might otherwise be employed in the western Pacific. Also, regardless of what the United States does, an Indian strategic commitment in East Asia will strengthen its overall negotiation position with China.

Whatever might have caused China to bully its neighbours this year, it has opened another window of opportunity for India to engage with the region. Pre-occupied as it is with the game in the north-western part of the subcontinent, it is unclear if New Delhi sufficiently realises that the seas east of Singapore hold the key to the lands west of the Indus.

India must vastly increase its economic, diplomatic and military presence in and beyond South East Asia. [Yahoo! India]

Ruddying relations

A closer strategic India-Australia relationship—the “how”

The Lowy Institute has released an excellent policy brief, authored by Rory Medcalf, coinciding with Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd’s first visit to India. You should read it in full—but the cogent executive summary is worth reproducing on this blog.

What is the problem
Strategic ties between Australia and India keep falling short of expectations, despite strong growth in trade. Controversy over the welfare of Indian students has added to differences over uranium exports to cloud what should be promising links between two countries with many common concerns. The relationship will weather recent turbulence. But without major diplomatic initiatives soon, the prospects for a truly strategic partnership between these Indian Ocean democracies will be set back for years.

What should be done?
The relationship needs to be invigorated through a leaders’ commitment to a strategic partnership, informed by a fresh awareness of how each country can help the other increase its security. This needs to be more than rhetoric.

A bilateral security declaration would add Australia-India relations to a regional web of defence ties involving Japan and South Korea. India should reciprocate Australia’s overtures to engage as a priority maritime partner, including in exercises. The two armies should help each other too, for example in special forces training.

Australia and India should work to expand common ground on nuclear non- proliferation and disarmament, which might help open the way on uranium sales. Both governments need fully to grasp Australia’s vast potential in ensuring India’s energy security.

Regular strategic dialogue should focus on common interests, including relating to China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, terrorism and maritime security. Options should also be explored for new regional arrangements including a three-party forum with Indonesia. [Lowy]

Related Link: Mr Medcalf also has an op-ed in today’s Indian Express. In the February 2008 issue of Pragati he argued that closer India-Australia ties requires political will on both sides.

When in a corner, show teeth

A chastened but sanctimoniously aggressive dragon

Qin Gang, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, made some eminently reasonable and sensible points yesterday. The Asian Development Bank’s approval of a loan package to India—which includes financing of a project in India’s Arunachal Pradesh state (which China calls ‘Southern Tibet’ and claims as its own)—he said, “can neither change the existence of immense territorial disputes between China and India, nor China’s fundamental position on its border issues with India…On China-India border issues, China always believes that the two sides should seek for a fair and equitable solution acceptable to both through bilateral negotiation.” (via Indrani Bagchi’s Globespotting blog)

In other words, ADB’s approval of a loan doesn’t change the positions of India and China with respect to the territorial dispute, and that bilateral negotiations (not multilateral economic fora like the ADB) are the place to sort the issue out.

So who were those unreasonable and insensible people who thought otherwise? None other than the representatives of the People’s Republic of China. None of their counterparts on ADB’s governing board agreed. Diplomacy being the art it is, it was left to Mr Qin to sound as if it was someone else who was flagrantly violating the norms of conduct at multilateral economic institutions.

The Chinese foreign ministry, however, does not stop at that. Mr Qin goes on the offensive. The ADB, he warns, “should not intervene in the political affairs of its members. The adoption of the document has not only dealt a severe blow to its own reputation but also undermines the interests of its members. The Chinese Government strongly urges the ADB to take effective measures to eliminate the terrible impact thereof.”

China’s entire approach to the ADB loan issue signals a dangerous portent for Asia. It would perhaps have been understandable if China had limited its protest to a symbolic pro forma objection. To transform the ADB as a forum to push its position in a bilateral dispute is an entirely different matter—and one that has serious implications for its relations with its East Asian neighbours, with whom it has unsettled disputes too. A charitable explanation is that it couldn’t back down without losing face once it had fired the first salvo. If you feel less charitable, you will see fresh signs of a deliberate strategy to flex its economic muscles for purely political ends. When zero-sum games are pursued at positive-sum arenas, the latter quickly become the former.

No room in Chiang Mai

China’s geoeconomic move to strengthen its geopolitical power in Asia

A few days ago, China, Japan, South Korean and the ASEAN states agreed to set up a US$120 billion to manage currency volatility. The Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI) primarily reduces the member countries’ dependency on the International Monetary Fund. It deliberately excludes India.

Here’s an excerpt from an EIU report on the development:

But does it make sense to compare the CMI to the IMF? Given that the meeting of G20 countries in London in early April resulted in pledges to triple the IMF’s reserves, from US$250bn to US$750bn, the expansion in the CMI does not initially look too impressive. Moreover, the severity and synchronisation of the global crisis imply a need for a much larger pool of emergency funding. But US$120bn is still a sizeable amount, arguably enough to allow the CMI to deal with crises in several countries (the IMF bail-out of South Korea in 1997-98 cost US$57bn). A lack of IMF conditionality might also encourage countries to make preventative use of the CMI, and thus to act to before external imbalances became unmanageable.

At the same time, however, the global crisis has changed views of the IMF’s correct role, and of the effectiveness of free-market policies. The IMF has now conceded that its loans need not always have stringent policy conditions. Its new Flexible Credit Line (FCL) embodies this view, as the FCL is designed to be used as a contingency by countries with sound economic fundamentals. To some eyes, the creation of the FCL obviates the need for a special Asian fund. Why bother setting up an Asian facility when the IMF already has a similar programme, and one that no longer carries the stigma that it used to? But although recent moves by Mexico, Poland and Colombia to tap the FCL should encourage others to do the same, Asian suspicion of IMF lending will persist. In any event, an increase in the absolute pool of funds potentially available to ASEAN + 3 countries is welcome, given the severity of the global crisis and the possibility that crises in other regions will create heavy demand for IMF funds.

At the same time, the CMI may not prove to be quite as hassle-free as potential users may imagine. In part for political reasons, countries that act as “suppliers” of foreign exchange—mainly China and Japan—are highly unlikely to impose the sort of formal austerity conditions associated with IMF lending. But they will still expect to see measures taken to ensure that they get their money back when the currency swaps expire. If a “recipient” country is in such straits that this looks unlikely, the donor may be reluctant to conduct the swap. Alternatively, reserve-rich countries like China may be tempted tacitly to extract political concessions from recipients in return for access to swaps, complicating the entire process and increasing the potential for diplomatic friction. At first glance, the CMI may help the likes of China and Japan to be seen as coming to the rescue of their neighbours. But if wrongly handled, the scheme could backfire and cause them to be perceived as seeking to exploit the crisis for strategic gain. [EIU, emphasis added]

India-Japan security ties not targeted at Papua New Guinea

Why PNG?

Unnamed Indian officials in Tokyo sought to drive home the point that India was not going to allow its ties with Tokyo to affect its relations with Port Moresby. Indeed, in a press conference at the residence of Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso on Wednesday evening, Dr Singh sought to emphasise that India’s economic relations and security cooperation with Japan would not be “at the cost of any third country, least of all Papua New Guinea.” [With due respect to Siddharth Varadarajan]

Then why mention PNG, you ask? Well, then why mention the PRC? It is not as if the good people in Beijing will be convinced by mere words. As TOI reports, “the fact that India has showed up in China after concluding a security and defence agreement with Japan will have its impact here.” Indian officials may well say Vienna is behind them, but looking ahead, China is reinvigorating its efforts to prevent India from securing a seat on the UN Security Council.

There was no need to mention China. Doing so evokes mental images of the need to kowtow. Surely, the Prime Minister of India does not need to do that?

But doesn’t repression work in China?

And what that means for the Communist Party’s hold on power

Reviewing Sushan Shirk’s Fragile Superpower, TCA Srinivasa-raghavan mentions the familiar argument about the lack of political safety valves in China. (linkthanks Chandrasekaran Balakrishnan)

…the Chinese leadership no longer has to fear the foreign devil who speaks English; it has to fear the average Chinaman who does so. (Shirk) also shows how there is no shortage in the variety of unrests in China: you name a type of discontent, and it is there. But unlike India, China has not had the sense to develop political outlets for the head of steam that is building up. The only way it knows of dealing with mass discontent is repression. [Business Standard]

That may be so, but it is by no means clear that repression won’t work in China. Mao Zedong’s depradations apart, even the Tiananmen Square massacre does not register in the public mind.

The problem may lie in the eyes of the beholder. Repression, for American and Indian commentators, is either repugnant or counter-productive or both. Despite speaking English, the Chinese mind may not think likewise. If so, assessments of China’s fragility may be overstated.

My op-ed in Mint: There is no one China policy

Competition in zero-sum games, co-operation in positive-sum games

My op-ed in today’s Mint is a synthesis of several posts and discussions on this blog. Many of you might rightly say that it is stating the obvious. But sometimes the obvious has to be stated as well (and the need to do so is not always so obvious).

Why blame China?

It behaved as it should

China did whatever it could to deny and delay the liberalisation of international nuclear trade with India. It did so in characteristic fashion, using indirect means until the very end. (But it was a diplomatic failure for China, because despite coming out directly, it didn’t manage to block the consensus).

Those who expected China to behave otherwise had deluded themselves into believing their own statements that “there is room for both India and China to rise in Asia” and that India doesn’t believe in balance-of-power politics and suchlike. As C Raja Mohan said in his interview with Pragati this month, “the problem, however, is that China’s rise is taking place a lot faster than that of India. As we look to the future, it is inevitable that India will constantly rub against China in different parts of Asia and beyond. There will be many elements of competition and some opportunities for cooperation with China. Managing this immensely dynamic relationship with China will be the single most important challenge for India’s security policy in the coming years.”

It’s not only about delivering diplomatic snubs. While those are useful in their own way, India must be prepared to drive it in at times and places where it hurts, while simultaneously engaging in mutually beneficial co-operation in other areas. [See one China policy—there isn’t one.] Stability in bilateral relations is a worthy policy objective, but the lesson from Vienna is that it can’t be achieved by pusillanimity, good intentions and unilateral diffidence alone.